Photo of Margaret Burnett

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has named Margaret Burnett, Distinguished Professor of Computer Science at Oregon State University, to the Information Science and Technology Study Group for a three-year term beginning this summer. The group brings 30 of the brightest scientists and engineers together to identify new areas of development in computer and communication technologies and to recommend future research directions.

Burnett is the second Oregon State member of the study group. Tom Dietterich, Distinguished Professor of Computer Science, a part of the steering committee for the group.

“This is a chance to be a part of making a real impact together with some of the leading minds in science and technology, and change the world for the better,” Burnett said.

Burnett specializes in research at the intersection of human computer interaction and software engineering, and is known for her pioneering work in visual programming languages, end-user software engineering, and gender-inclusive software. She has received recognition from national organizations including the CHI Academy, the National Center for Women and TechnologyACM SIGSOFT, and IEEE Symposium on Visual Languages and Human-Centric Computing.

The Information Science and Technology Study Group was established by DARPA in 1987 to support its technology offices and provide continuing and independent assessment of the state of advanced information science and technology as it relates to the U.S. Department of Defense.

Margaret Burnett, Distinguished Professor of computer science, was awarded the 2020 iGIANT Champion Award for her outstanding research contributions to inclusive software design. iGIANT® (impact of Gender/Sex on Innovation and Novel Technologies) is a nonprofit corporation that promotes best practices for gender/sex-specific design elements.

“I am honored to be recognized for my work with iGIANT, but all of it was a team effort,” Burnett said.  “None of it would have been possible without the help of many other volunteers, including Larissa Letaw and Jillian Emard here at OSU, working together to help iGIANT’s mission of inclusiveness and equitable experiences for all genders.”

Over the last decade, much of Burnett’s research has focused on gender inclusiveness in software. Her internationally recognized work in this area with students and collaborators has shown gender differences in ways people problem solve with software.

Burnett developed a method called GenderMag with her collaborators that enables IT professionals to identify and eliminate gender biases in the software. She and Anita Sarma, associate professor of computer science, lead the research team that is helping academic and industry partners develop inclusive design for software and websites. Their work was featured in the story, “Oregon State leads fight against gender bias in software,” published by Oregon State’s news and research communications office.

Anita Sarma
Anita Sarma, associate professor

“Open source software is changing the technology and workforce landscape. Our work will help open source software tools and technology support diverse cognitive styles that will help bring diversity in thought by enabling diversity in open source contributors.”

 – Anita Sarma, associate professor of computer science in the College of Engineering at Oregon State.

Principal investigators:

  • Lead PI: Anita Sarma, associate professor of computer science, Oregon State University
  • Co-PI: Margaret Burnett, Distinguished Professor of computer science, Oregon State University

In collaboration with:

  • PI: Igor Steinmacher, assistant professor, Northern Arizona University
  • Co-PI: Marco Gerosa, associate professor, Northern Arizona University


National Science Foundation

Award amount:

$1.4 million between the two universities, $870,773 to Oregon State.

Research objectives:

This research will investigate whether and how open source software tools and technologies have gender biases tied with diverse problem-solving styles, and how to remove any such biases.

This work will harness foundational gender research to provide theory-based yet practical solutions and redesigns of open source software projects to address the underrepresentation of women.

The redesigns and the process of creating inclusive tools will be empirically evaluated to create a compendium of “best practices” for fixing gender-bias bugs, in both products (what suitable fixes are to such bugs) and processes (how open source software teams can work together to fix gender-bias bugs).

Broader impacts:

Open source is having a significant impact on society, in the products it produces and the career paths that it facilitates. However, women are vastly underrepresented among open source developers. This is a significant concern to these communities because it prevents them from receiving the benefits of a larger talent pool and of team diversity. The problem is perpetuated when women developers miss the learning and professional growth opportunities that open source software projects provide, and are overlooked when open source contributions are used to make hiring decisions. Our work will help break down these gender-bias barriers in tools and technology used in open source software.

More information is on the NSF website.

photo Christopher Mendez and Alannah Oleson
Christopher Mendez and Alannah Oleson received NSF Graduate Research Fellowships this year.

Two students of computer science in the College of Engineering at Oregon State University received National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowships that will provide three years of research funding while they attend graduate school. This prestigious award recognizes and supports outstanding early career graduate students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics disciplines.

Christopher Mendez, a graduate student, and Alannah Oleson, an undergraduate, received the awards for research in the field of human-computer interaction (HCI). There were a total of eight students across the U.S. to receive the award for HCI research.

This prestigious award recognizes and supports outstanding early career graduate students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines. A total of 2,000 fellowships are awarded per year across all STEM fields.

Both Mendez and Oleson are advised by Distinguished Professor Margaret Burnett who co-founded the area of end-user software engineering, which aims to improve software for computer users who are not trained in programming. Her current research investigates gender-neutral software, uncovering gender inclusiveness issues in software from spreadsheets to programming environments.

Mendez and Oleson are extending Burnett’s research into different areas: Mendez is investigating how technology can empower people of low socioeconomic status; and Oleson is researching how best to teach inclusive software design methods and principles to university-level computer science students.

Mendez is continuing his research with Burnett at Oregon State, and Oleson will be starting graduate school next fall at the University of Washington.

Margaret BurnettProfessor Margaret Burnett has been on a roll lately, to put it mildly. Her most recent award is the 2017 Undergraduate Research Faculty Mentoring Award announced this month by the Education Committee of the Computing Research Association. This follows a string of awards from national organizations including the CHI Academy, the National Center for Women and Technology, ACM SIGSOFT, and IEEE Symposium on Visual Languages and Human-Centric Computing. She was also named 2016 Distinguished Professor recipient by Oregon State University, the highest academic honor the university can bestow on a faculty member.

The following quote comes from the the Education Committee of the Computing Research Association award announcement:

Margaret Burnett, Ph.D., is a distinguished professor in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Oregon State University (OSU), a member of the ACM CHI Academy, and an ACM Distinguished Scientist. Burnett has contributed pioneering research on how ordinary users interact with software and optimizing that interaction. This resulted, in part, in the development of a new subarea, which is at the intersection of human-computer interaction and software engineering, called end-user software engineering.


Throughout her academic career, Burnett has continuously worked with undergraduate researchers and even accommodated high school students in her lab. She has mentored 39 undergraduate students in research; 21 were from underrepresented groups in computing, 32 co-authored published research papers, and 25 went on to graduate studies. A selection of the honors of her highly accomplished mentees includes three Google Scholarships, three NSF Graduate Fellowships, and two National Physical Sciences Consortium Graduate Fellowships. In her nomination, several mentees attested to her personal influence on and involvement in their lives and careers.


Impressively, Burnett influenced the culture of faculty undergraduate research mentoring in her school, increasing it to 50% participation. She has also led efforts to better support a diverse undergraduate population through trips to the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, the adoption of a diversity plan, and new experimental scholarships for incoming freshmen women in computing. She has received awards from NCWIT, Microsoft, and OSU for her mentoring and research.

Margaret Burnet
Margaret Burnett gives a keynote address at FSE 2016.

Oregon State University faculty and students were well represented at the premiere software engineering conference, ACM SIGSOFT International Symposium on the Foundations of Software Engineering (FSE 2016) in Seattle November 13-18, 2016.

Distinguished Professor Margaret Burnett gave a keynote address titled Womenomics and Gender-Inclusive Software: What Software Engineers Need to Know, and five of the 74 papers presented there were from Oregon State which is an honor in itself. However, two of those papers were selected to receive Distinguished Paper Awards. Both papers aim to improve the efficiency of software development:

API Code Recommendation Using Statistical Learning from Fine-grained Changes

by Anh Nguyen, Michael Hilton, Mihai Codoban, Hoan Nguyen, Lily Mast, Eli Rademacher, Tien Nguyen and Danny Dig

Distinguished Paper Award
Distinguished Paper Award, FSE 2016. Pictured (left to right): Mihai Codoban (OSU alumus, now at Microsoft), Danny Dig (OSU), Michael Hilton (OSU) , Tien Nguyen (UT Dallas.) and three conference organizers.

Abstract: Learning and remembering how to use APIs is difficult. While code- completion tools can recommend API methods, browsing a long list of API method names and their documentation is tedious. Moreover, users can easily be overwhelmed with too much information. We present a novel API recommendation approach that taps into the predictive power of repetitive code changes to provide relevant API recommendations for developers. Our approach and tool, APIREC, is based on statistical learning from fine-grained code changes and from the context in which those changes were made. Our empirical evaluation shows that APIREC correctly recommends an API call in the first position 59% of the time, and it recommends the correct API call in the top 5 positions 77% of the time. This is a significant improvement over the state-of-the-art approaches by 30-160% for top-1 accuracy, and 10-30% for top-5 accuracy, respectively. Our result shows that APIREC performs well even with a one-time, minimal training dataset of 50 publicly available projects.

Foraging and Navigations, Fundamentally: Developers’ Predictions of Value and Cost

by David Piorkowski, Austin Henley, Tahmid Nabi, Scott Fleming, Christopher Scaffidi and Margaret Burnett

Distinguished Paper Award, FSE 2016.
Distinguished Paper Award, FSE 2016. Pictured (left to right) Margaret Burnett (OSU), Scott Fleming (Univ. Memphis, former OSU postdoc), David Piorkowski (OSU alum, now at IBM Research), Austin Henley (Univ. Memphis), and three conference organizers.

Abstract: Empirical studies have revealed that software developers spend 35%–50% of their time navigating through source code during development activities, yet fundamental questions remain: Are these percentages too high, or simply inherent in the nature of software development? Are there factors that somehow determine a lower bound on how effectively developers can navigate a given information space? Answering questions like these requires a theory that captures the core of developers’ navigation decisions. Therefore, we use the central proposition of Information Foraging Theory to investigate developers’ ability to predict the value and cost of their navigation decisions. Our results showed that over 50% of developers’ navigation choices produced less value than they had predicted and nearly 40% cost more than they had predicted. We used those results to guide a literature analysis, to investigate the extent to which these challenges are met by current research efforts, revealing a new area of inquiry with a rich and crosscutting set of research challenges and open problems.